Although the company’s Dutch roots were in growing lush beautiful roses starting in 1978, Toine Overgaag saw an opportunity in growing orchids vs. roses and shared this business idea with his father and company founder Joop “Joe” Overgaag in 2003.
“Offshore rose growers (Ecuador & Colombia) had really strong cost advantages, namely labor and they were able to get products to the U.S. market easily,” said Toine Overgaag. “Potted orchids are largely produced domestically because of transportation costs and they lend themselves to automation.”
The shift and five-year plan coincided with orchids becoming one of the most popular indoor plants for people around the world for several reasons. First, these blooms are both long-lasting and beautiful. Simultaneously, interior designers added to the trend by introducing them as the perfect hallway accessory and modern design flourish. And as a result of breeding practices and popularity, their costs also have been reduced so that they are accessible to the general public.
Capitalizing on these trends, Westerlay shipped to not only supermarket chains but to designers and florists creating a flourishing business.
And more importantly, this is yet another example where patriarchs – or matriarchs – welcome the infusion of ideas from the next generation that results in long-term viability and growth. A true American success story!
Under Toine’s Overgaag’s leadership, – he has been the owner of Westerlay Orchids since 2009 – the company’s sales volume has now quadrupled and relationships with Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Safeway in the Pacific Region have been anchors to his vision. Westerlay now grows orchids on 21 acres and produces over 4 million orchids annually.
Another reason to love Westerlay is for its sustainable practices.
As Earth 911 recently commented, Westerlay uses natural predators instead of pesticides to deal with pests; energy and water management technologies; and recirculates waste exhaust CO2 to increase the photosynthesis of plants.
Westerlay also uses slow shipping, ensuring trucks are full before moving the flowers to minimize the impact of sending flowers to stores and customers. Therefore the environmental footprint is reduced. The company produced CO2-eq emissions of about 2.7 ounces per unit sold and reported 331 tons of emissions from ocean and freight shipping in 2021. Quite an accomplishment. According to Earth 911, that’s about the equivalent of the emissions of 23 average Americans, based on 2020 figures.
As the public leans towards and desires more sustainable practices, Westerlay is truly a role model to be admired. Where there is a will, they find a way.
Perhaps now there will be a new member of the family in the business since Toine has three children – though as he says, they are under 10 so too young to predict. But what he can predict is that his company is planting all the right seeds for established sustainability practices for a rewarding future.
1. What is your superpower or special technique or flower that makes your farm special?
Our team. We are all aligned on our Core Values of Responsibility, Pride, Support, and Improvement. Because the team lives these values every day, we are able to overcome and challenge that comes our way
2. Can you share a challenge and a solution you found for farming your flowers?
We are highly focused on sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint. In the last few years, we have made significant investments in water recycling technology and solar panels.
3. What is your philosophy for the future – any new flowers on the horizon or techniques you will employ?
I believe that orchid buyers want to know more about their plants and engage with others about their plants. We are making investments in content and communication to help our customers have success with their plants.
4. What are you most proud of?
I am proud of a lot of things that we have accomplished here at Westerlay. I think, though, I am most proud of the community we have built here and what we do to support the larger community around us.
5. What is the best-selling orchid?
The two-spike white orchid.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD, floral editor for Aspire Design and Home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.